The other day my friends and I wore entrenched in writing our books at our favorite coffee shop, discussing the merits of hard or soft magic, magic as it appears in Aelathia and my friend’s science fiction novel in process. All of a sudden, an avid fantasy reader approached us, and we were even further swept up into the annals of favorite author lore when, I noticed, our new friend was holding a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
If you haven’t read it, I suggest you pick up a copy at your earliest convenience so you can laugh your head off. One of the basic tenets of space travel, as any good hitchhiker learns, is you never forget your towel—and never, ever, remember—don’t panic.
I can’t really say I’ve accomplished that this last week. Not that I really was exploring the stars (other than an epilogue scene I added to Weaving and Musings of Essencers…which may or may not stay in the final manuscript). In fact, I think my 10 month old daughter did more exploring then me. She’s finally realized that if she’s subtle enough, she might just sneak through that open door of the War Room to get to the steps. We let her get to the doorway before my wife or I snatch her out of imminent Esther the Explorer danger.
No, I didn’t bring my towel when I explored the inner idea of fear, of being trapped inside your own body. Sometimes my condition leaves me so utterly crippled, I can’t even move without help. The pain is near-constant on the left side of my abdomen, and after a (series of) seizure-like spasms my voice is often left muted, slurred. I sound nothing like the former teacher, assistant to a lawyer, or assistant director of a college ministry as I used to be. When my body shakes uncontrollably, rattling my head around like a ragdoll, I’ll tell you, dang my neck can hurt.
When I wake up in the middle of the night shaking like my body’s rejecting the last book of the Hitchhiker’s series, it’s hard not to panic. In that case, my towel is a pillow I can grab with a potentially good arm to brace myself.
To tell you the truth, da** the panic. Engage the fear. Total fear. There’s a moment when my head is thrown back I can’t breath, just for a moment. My body has seized control and is razing my very being to the ground.
How can you not panic when faced with such a terrifying reality, day after day?
It’s when my wife wakes up, and she grabs me, holds me closely, braces my head or neck, tries to straighten out my best impression of the St. Louis Arch. When she’s close, whispering in my ear, the panic fades. I breathe. Eventually, after more than an hour, the spasms pass, muscle tension subsides.
There’s a very real part of my life that feels like I’m losing myself—and I have to face that question: who am I? Do I have value as a medicated spasmatic? Do I have something of worth to offer the world? Will this issue of myoclonus and its cause ever be solved or will this be lifelong? (Or do I need a real Dr. House?) When I am no longer like I used to be, is that okay? I feel like something in me is lost.
Don’t panic. The towel isn’t really a person. It’s not an actual towel, pillow, or the Hitchhiker’s Guide. Rather, it’s the truth.
God is real. He knows my pain. He’s present there, in it, with me. I see God in my wife, in my daughter, in my friends who patiently endure the hard reality that it doesn’t look like I’m getting healed any time soon. It’s there in Psalm 142 and 143, when the writer of the biblical poetry expresses most sincere emotions—fear, pending death, enemies beyond control. But there’s a hope. There’s an expectation.
The expectation is that God—the Spirit— is going to be at least present. Sometimes, even knowing that there’s a glimmer of divinity peering down upon pain, not content with it, but wanting to be affectionate in the pain, now that’s better than a towel. That reminder, to not panic, is found in a completely different guide, when in John 14:27, Jesus said, “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you. I do not give to you the way the world gives. Let not your hearts be discouraged, and do not be afraid.”
Like the whisper of my wife in my ear, the whisper of that verse in the memory of my spirit is just as comforting. For all of us, I think, it’s a good reminder. Don’t panic.